Margaret Laurence wrote with a sense of vocation. She experienced writing as a “gift of grace.” Her Christian faith taught her respect for the “unique and irreplaceable” nature of each character in her fiction. Those familiar with Laurence’s autobiographical writings may already know these facts . However, those who know Laurence through having read a novel or two, or simply by reputation as an activist, feminist author whose works some have wanted withdrawn from high school classrooms will be intrigued to learn how deep the spiritual dimension runs in her work. Laurence’s books often use scriptural allusions and present characters who converse with God. Yet, Laurence betrays her Christian religious framework on an even more profound level by the way she treats the downtrodden, outcasts and sinners.
Ultimately, most of Laurence’s characters (although less true of the privileged ones) are treated sympathetically. More importantly, they are treated in a manner that is fundamentally optimistic. Despite their moral upheaval, their success as human beings is often greater than those who conform to conventional ideals. Rachel’s willingness in A Jest of God to bear a child out of wedlock despite what people will say contrasts favourably with the pious respectability of her mother whose control over Rachel masquerades as solicitousness. In The Fire-Dwellers, Rachel’s sister Stacey falls short of her ideal as wife and mother, and yet, after acting out her feelings of failure and insecurity by having an affair, she rekindles her love for her husband, evokes his forgiveness and keeps her family together. In The Diviners, the generosity of Christy and Prin Logan — looked down upon by the rest of Manawaka because of their poverty, Christy’s job as garbage collector and Prin’s shapeless profile — is finally appreciated by their adopted daughter, Morag Gunn, after they have died. But the reader can see their mettle long before then. And the reader can also perceive that there is more to Jules Tonnerre, the Métis father of Morag’s daughter, than society, or Morag’s very successful ex-husband, Brooke, could ever notice.
Laurence’s work, despite her personal reservations about institutional religion or about various points of doctrine, seems, ultimately, to speak accurately of divine sovereignty and mercy. She conveys a sense that good will triumph over evil.
The United Church context in which Laurence first learned how to view the world — mediated first by the courage and generosity of her beloved grandmother and the aunt who became her “Mum” — most likely helped her to develop her characteristic hopefulness and gratitude for life.